As we prepare for the upcoming Eventing phase of equestrian events at Pan Am 2015, we thought we’d take some time to reflect on the highs and lows of the Dressage competition.

Bringing together riders from 10 separate countries, many argued early on that (due to Olympic rule changes) it was going to become a case of the “CanAm” (Canada + America) games as the two countries fought hard for a coveted spot at the Rio Olympics. That being said, competition early on showed that all the riders had brought their “A” game and were ready to compete and represent their countries through the team and individual rounds.

Steffen Peters on the podium after taking individual gold following the Freestyle. PC | Linda Todd

Steffen Peters on the podium after taking individual gold following the Freestyle.
PC | Linda Todd

Dressage events commenced on July 19th with the horse inspection, before the first round of competition on July 11. The United States had taken the lead by the end of Saturday, with Steffen Peters (aboard Legolas 92) taking the top spot with a 77.240%. Though the Canadian riders weren’t about to go down without a fight, proving they have the skills by placing all their riders in the top eight alongside the American team. Canada’s Brittany Fraser, aboard All In, scored an impressive 76.105%, putting her in second place.

Canadian riders Belinda Trussel and Megan Lane after Canada took the Silver medal in the team round. PC | Linda Todd

Canadian riders Belinda Trussel and Megan Lane after Canada took the Silver medal in the team round.
PC | Linda Todd

The fight between Canada and the U.S. for the top spots continued into Sunday, with impressive scores posted early on (from all the riders). The team from Brazil held the early lead with some solid scores, only to be ousted by the Canadian and American riders, who posted some impressive scores in the mid to high 70s. By the end of the day, Laura Graves and Verdades (USA) took the top spot with a 77.177%, followed closely by Kimberly Herslow (USA) and Christopher Von Martels (CAN). Again, Canada and the U.S were holding tight to those top eight spots.

Sunday marked the end of the team competition, and after some intense (and surely career best) performances, the United States took the Gold, Canada the Silver, and Brazil the Bronze. A great achievement for all the riders, it also meant that the U.S. had earned the coveted team spot in the Rio Olympics, with Canada (and Mexico) qualifying one rider.

Individual competition recommenced on Tuesday with the Freestyles, where once again the top spots were firmly held by the Canadian and American riders. By the end of the day, Steffen Peters (USA) took the Gold, Laura Graves (USA) the Silver, and Christopher Von Martels (CAN) the Bronze. Canadian riders Belinda Trussel and Brittany Fraser tied for fourth place, and Brazilian riders Leandro Da Silva and Joao Victor Marcari Olivia took 6th and 7th, respectively. American rider Kimberly Herslow took eighth.

Margarita De Castillo (GUA) celebrating after a successful ride PC | Linda Todd

Margarita De Castillo (GUA) celebrating after a successful ride
PC | Linda Todd

Scores and medals aside, it was truly an impressive three days of equestrian competition. Despite the scorching sun, sweltering heat, and often less than impressive spectator turn out, the athletes laid it all out on the ring and pulled some impressive scores well above standard. Triumphs were to be had across the board, regardless of country or competition level (teams were a mix of small and large tour), and many riders weren’t shy with giving their horses plenty of praise after the final salute. Spectators showed their love for their teams not only by enduring scorching heat in the bleachers (summer decided to arrive just in time for Pan Am) but had their flags and cheers ready for their favourite athletes. Canada definitely showed its pride for its riders, with plenty of cheering, flag waving, and a sea of red and white clothing, it was pretty great to see (I am Canadian, so I’m a wee bit biased in that department). Though many other riders got some love from their fans as well.

It was a great three days of competition overall, and a great opportunity for many Canadians to attend a top level sporting event on their home turf. While the OLG Caledon Equestrian Park was situated some distance away from many of the other Pan Am venues, it was still a bearable drive from most major GTA locations (even if some have lamented the parking and shuttle situation). For any equestrians attending the event, there was also some shopping to be had (and the joy of air conditioned store trailers) as Greenhawk, Baker’s, and Bahr Saddlery all had mobile stores set up.

Perhaps the biggest lament for the Dressage, and the equestrian portion of the games overall, was the lack of broadcast coverage. If you were not

Brittany Fraser (CAN) aboard All In. PC | Linda Todd

Brittany Fraser (CAN) aboard All In.
PC | Linda Todd

lucky enough to attend the event in person, all you had was friend’s and media photos of the event, and the occasional (taken in secret) camera phone video posted to YouTube.

It’s a sad fact that equestrian events are often overlooked by popular media (e.g. non-equestrian publications and sports networks), and in the case of the Games — where there were added broadcast restrictions — the ball really was dropped. While CBC has admitted they will have coverage of the show jumping (the one equestrian event that usually gets TV coverage), the Dressage was never broadcast or live streamed, and it doesn’t look like the Eventing will be either. In an age where technology is so present and we are so tapped in, lack of coverage is a hard pill to swallow (and one we shouldn’t have to). For those who regularly watch the comprehensive coverage and live streams covered by the USEF and the FEI, the non-existent coverage coming from CBC is really painful. Not everyone has the opportunity, time, or funds to travel to events like these (even when they are on your home soil), so it’s sad that at home spectators don’t have the joy of cheering on their favourite athletes from their couch or computer screens. While this isn’t the first time something like this has happened, it’s lamentable that it’s still happening, and we have to hold hope that in the future things will be better.

But to end on a high note, because despite broadcast issues, the heat, and some other difficulties, we can’t let the unpleasantness overshadow the great achievements of the riders and horses who gave it their all in competition these last few days. Many of these athletes have been working all their lives to get to the point they’re at, and they deserve to be celebrated.

Congratulations to all the riders that competed in the Dressage, those riders that will be competing in the Eventing and Show jumping, and the horses who have helped them get there.

Here’s to you guys!

For the full Pan Am Equestrian event schedule and scores, visit: http://results.toronto2015.org/IRS/en/equestrian/schedule-and-results.htm

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